People watch videos on Facebook—a lot of videos. During its earnings call yesterday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the number of videos watched on Facebook now totals more than 4 billion per day—triple what was being watched on the social network last summer.
With all those eyeballs trained on its moving pictures, the company is now moving quickly to make them pay. Today Facebook announced that it is teaming up with seven popular media companies, including The Onion, Disney and Vice Media, to produce video ads for brands hoping to capture the attention of the social network’s 1.44 billion users.
The partnerships are the latest development in a fast-moving trend toward publishers acting more like traditional ad agencies, particularly in the realm of content for the web and social media. It’s a model largely pioneered by Buzzfeed, though its own ad shop is absent from the initial list of partners for what Facebook is calling Anthology. The new program also comes at a time when Facebook is seeking to act more like a publisher as it seeks to host more and more content itself rather than linking out to other sites.
In-house video ads appear to be a significant step step in that direction. Rather than working with an outside agency to make an ad for, say, YouTube that merely lives as a link on Facebook, brands can work with any one of these Facebook-vetted producers, which also include Electus Digital, Funny or Die, Tastemade and Vox Media. The common thread among them is a proven track record of making content that goes viral on, you guessed, Facebook. Advertisers can also work with Facebook’s in-house creative strategy team to get guidance on how to build, distribute and measure advertising campaigns on the social network. In other words, instead of working with a third party to try to figure out how to make ads that do well on Facebook, brands can just work with Facebook.
Facebook’s Video Push
The launch of the Anthology program is a kind of culmination of Facebook’s big push into video over the past year, a push that judging from the social network’s exploding video growth seems to have succeeded. Among its efforts to capture more video traffic, Facebook acquired video startup QuickFire Networks last January to support high-quality videos that don’t eat up users’ bandwidth. Facebook has also been encouraging publishers to post their video content directly to Facebook rather than linking out to it. Partnering with publishers to produce video ads seems like another way to lure them into the company’s video fold, with the added bonus of bulking up the quality of the options it can offer its own advertisers. Media partners, meanwhile, get the advantage of a look behind the curtain of the world’s number-one social network, which is fast becoming the online publishing industry’s biggest driver of traffic.
To be sure, Facebook is not the first video platform that has sought out these kinds of partnerships to produce high-quality advertising. YouTube is by far the leading destination for internet video, delivering more than 6 billion hours’ worth of content every month to viewers worldwide. It unveiled a plan last September to invest millions in its biggest stars, funding brand-new shows and series to attract ad dollars.
Meanwhile, startups that facilitate advertising deals for social media stars—players like TapInfluence, Izea, and Jerome Jarre’s Grapestory—are all fighting for video ad dollars. In February, Twitter even acquired one of these so-called social media agencies, Niche, to help it boost its revenues. Just today, a new startup called Victorious launched apps that help internet video stars connect—and market directly to—their vast audience of “superfans.”
But as with any other product market it enters, Facebook is now the giant in the branded content room, too. It likely has a long line of publishers knocking at its door, eager for tips on how to gain a better position on the platform, and an even longer line of advertisers hoping to do the same. By outsourcing the content those advertisers want to other publishers, Facebook gets to enjoy plenty of ad dollars without having to spin up a labor-intensive content production shop of its own. Everyone wins—well, except for Buzzfeed.